It was Wednesday when Keith let Adam know that he was going home for the weekend, so the room would be free from Friday afternoon through Sunday night. It was Thursday when Adam invited Ronan to visit for the weekend, and Ronan made plans to drop off Opal with Declan, who loved babysitting his strange niece. And it was Friday afternoon, right in the middle of Adam’s last class of the week, when he got a text from Ronan.
Which was a fairly rare occurrence, so he checked it frantically, only to see:
The golden trio forced their way into coming along to visit you too. be warned
Adam’s face lit up, and he pushed his phone quickly back into his bag, hoping his professor hadn’t noticed him checking a text during class.
He hadn’t seen Blue, Gansey, and Henry in ages- not since winter break, when they’d all met up back in Henrietta and essentially spent a whole two weeks all glued to each other’s sides. Spending so much time apart had only served to remind them all how much they loved each other.
The trio had gone to South America after winter break, because Blue had managed to get into a month-long environmental research program in Costa Rica. Gansey and Henry had come along because both of them were still trying to work out what they wanted to do in life, and Henry had gotten involved in some local activism for a while.
They’d come back to Henrietta at the end of February, about a week ago, and were planning to stay there for just a little while. Evidently they had decided to head up to Connecticut with Ronan to visit Adam.
As soon as Adam’s class ended, he headed out the door, where he was almost instantly attacked by a hug from Blue.
“Adam!” she exclaimed, her arms still tight around his neck, on her tiptoes. “Adam, Adam, Adam! It’s been so long!”
She still had a gorgeous tan, in contrast to the still-incredibly-cold March weather in New England. Behind her were Gansey, Henry, and Ronan, in various states of rolling their eyes and smiling with affection.
Adam closed his eyes and let himself hug Blue back. He was so warm and lit-up just from seeing all of them.
Eventually Blue let him go, and Gansey and Henry came over and each gave him a quick hug, while Blue continued to talk endlessly in the background.
“Look, I know I’ve sent you a thousand emails and we’ve talked a ton, but there’s still so much to tell you, Adam, and you of all people would get it, just knowing what it is you want to do with your life- there are so many opportunities I didn’t even think about, and there were so many people I met and I took a lot of really nice photos, you’ll love the trees there, I bet-”
“Can you shut up for one second and let me say hello, Sargent,” Ronan said.
“Oh, and Ronan’s been as terrible as usual this past week, because he seems to think environmental activism is a waste of time, even though he is a farmer and he should know more than anyone the importance of-”
Ronan shoved past her and kissed Adam.
“Don’t be an asshole about Blue’s passions in life, Lynch,” Adam said.
“This is why I didn’t want these annoying fuckers to come along,” Ronan said, but it was pretty clear he was fine with all of them being there.
“Come on,” Adam said. “Do you guys want to see the campus?”
“Fuck no,” Ronan said. “It’s cold as shit.”
“I’d like to see the campus,” Gansey said.
“I agree with Ronan,” Blue said. “It is cold as shit.”
“Admittedly, we were just in South America,” Henry said. “I’m sure you’re used to this frozen wasteland, Parrish.”
“Believe it or not, this is considered fairly nice March weather up here,” Adam said, gesturing out the door they’d just arrived at towards the grey sky and islands of melting snow amongst the pale grass.
“Let’s go to your dorm,” Gansey said. “I believe I’ve never seen it, and I am curious about what your living space looks like.”
“I want to meet your new friends, myself,” Henry said. “After hearing so much about them.”
None of them stopped talking as Adam led them across campus to his dorm building. They were all shivering behind him, Ronan especially who hadn’t bothered to bring anything more than a light jacket, but Adam felt unbelievably warm.
They all found his room to be charmingly college-y, and Henry took a bunch of pictures for his Instagram, which Adam reluctantly allowed. Then Gansey, Blue, and Henry unloaded a bunch of souvenirs and gifts on Adam, which Adam also reluctantly allowed because he knew they’d brought just as many gifts for nearly everyone else they knew.
And the gifts were pretty clearly not charity, seeing as most of them were utterly useless.
“You realize I don’t have anywhere to put these tacky magnets,” he told Henry.
“What about that mini fridge?”
“It’s technically my roommate’s, and I’m not going to torment him with the sight of this souvenir crap.”
Blue had gotten him a tiny book filled with illustrations of various rainforest species. Pressed inside were leaves and flowers she’d picked up for him.
“I tried to preserve them for the most part,” she said. “Using some preservation techniques and some tree magic my dad taught me. They should last a while.”
At six-thirty, they decided to head out to dinner. Adam invited Dana, Liz, and Jordan, who’d been curious about his friends from back home, and they went out to a pizza place in town.
The three girls arrived a little later and found the group sitting around a handful of tables, still waiting on their order. Liz introduced the three of them to everyone.
“Let me guess,” she said. “You’re Blue, you’re Henry, and you… are Gansey. Huh. No offense, but from what Adam’s told me, I was expecting you to literally be wearing a suit made out of money.”
Blue and Henry doubled over laughing. Gansey’s eyebrows raised.
“And what exactly has he told you?” he asked.
“Enough,” Liz said, and sat down.
It wasn’t quite as awkward as Adam had expected. He’d gotten used, in the years he’d known Gansey and Ronan, to the idea of new people meeting the group being a terrible thing, full of tension and jealousy and unspoken bitterness. But things had loosened just as they’d strengthened between the group of friends, and Adam realized that they’d grown up. Their friendship had grown up. They could love each other, all in different ways and the same ways, and love other people, in different ways and the same ways, and talk to each other honestly and openly and understandingly.
Jordan, who was very into environmental science, got deep into a conversation with Blue about trees. Henry and Liz grew fond of each other within five minutes, making wisecracks across the table at each other repeatedly, and Dana instantly started in on how romantic the three of them were, with their travels together and their true love’s kisses and all that.
The group splintered off later into the night, with Adam’s college friends returning to campus, and the other five heading to the hotel that Blue, Gansey, and Henry were staying in. They stayed up fairly late talking together, happy and laughing and talking.
Around ten, Blue leaned back, yawned, and said with a lazy smile on her face, “Isn’t this beautiful?”
“Isn’t what beautiful?” Gansey asked, turning to look at her.
“This. What our lives have become. I just… two years ago, things were so different.”
“You didn’t even know us,” Adam said.
“I barely knew any of you, for that matter,” Henry said.
“And…” Ronan added, before trailing off and staring at the floor.
Adam looked at him, from where he was sitting close pressed against him, and slid his arm around him. He knew what Ronan was thinking about.
“Wherever Noah is,” he said, voice lowered a bit, “I think he’d be happy that this is where we all are.”
“Persephone, too,” Blue added.
The grief didn’t get any lighter, but it did get easier to deal with, for all of them. It was part of life- they’re gone, they will continue to be gone- but it wasn’t an all-consuming loss anymore. It was, in its own strange way, OK. The way a natural disaster could leave flowers in its wake.
“We’re happy,” Ronan said, finally. “I’m happy, at least.”
“I’m happy, too,” Gansey said. “And I hope none of you are going to call me sentimental for saying this, but it wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t think I could ever be happy. Not unless I found Glendower, at least. But I’m happy now, because of all of you.”
“Gansey-man, feel free to make sentimental speeches whenever you like,” Henry said.
Blue yawned again, and Gansey said, “OK, Ronan, Adam, I don’t mean to kick you out, but I think Jane here needs to sleep.”
“Fuck you, Gansey, I’m not tired,” Blue muttered, and it was so Ronan-like that Adam nearly laughed.
“We’re meeting up for brunch tomorrow, right?” Gansey said.
This was something Gansey had decided earlier, and none of them wanted to tell him that normal people didn’t actually go to brunch as a regular meal, so they’d agreed to go to brunch with him the next day.
“Yeah, sure,” Ronan said. “We’ll see you at like ten AM.”
“See you then, asshole,” Blue called, from where she’d curled up on the bed. “You too, Adam.”
“See you, maggot,” Ronan said. “You too, Gansey and Henry.”
He and Adam headed out the door. As soon as they were out in the hall and the door was closed, Ronan pressed Adam into a bone-crushing hug.
“Sorry,” he said against Adam’s hearing ear. “I was going crazy with missing you.”
“Ha,” Adam breathed out, which was difficult with Ronan’s arms constricting his lungs. “You could have done that earlier, you know.”
“Didn’t want to get in the way of you talking to everyone else,” Ronan said. “You haven’t seen them in months, and I saw you three weeks ago.”
Adam pushed closer against Ronan, head against his shoulders, and breathed in his scent, which was the most calming thing he knew.
“Yeah,” he said. “But I missed you, too.”
They stood there for a little while before Adam said, “All right, let me go, let’s get back to campus.”
Ronan reluctantly let go of him but held his hand as they took the elevator back down to the lobby and headed out to the car, driving back to Adam’s dorm.
“Hey,” Ronan said, as they got out of the car. “Let’s stay out here for a bit. I hate that tiny-ass room.”
“Ronan, you’re going to freeze to death,” Adam said.
“Guess you’ll have to keep me warm, then.”
“Jesus Christ,” Adam said, but he smiled and wrapped his arm around Ronan while they leaned against the side of the BMW. It was cold, but in a sweet, New England sort of way, and the night was clear. A few stars were visible above, nothing like the infinity of stars you could see at the Barns on clear nights, but enough to be a pretty image.
They stood there, Adam idly kissing Ronan’s shoulder, for a few minutes, before Ronan said, “What did you think about what Sargent said earlier?”
“Which thing that she said?” Adam asked.
“About being happy with where our lives are now.”
“Oh,” Adam said. “Uh, I guess I kind of agree. I’m happy with my life. You know, this school is amazing- thousand times better than fucking Aglionby.”
“Yeah,” Ronan said. “That’s for sure.”
He continued staring into the distance, eyebrows knit together, and Adam said, “OK, so why are you asking?”
“What about us?” he asked. “Is that- is that part of what makes your life happy?”
“What?” Adam said, completely taken by surprise, because he’d thought he’d made it clear a thousand times over how much he wanted to be with Ronan. “Yeah, of course it is. I thought that was obvious.”
Ronan looked down at his hands, and doubt surged in Adam.
“Why are you asking?” he said again. “Is- do you not- is it not good enough for you?”
“Shit,” Ronan said, looking back up at Adam. “No, fuck, that’s not what I meant.”
“So say what you mean.”
Ronan leaned back against the car, eyes trained towards the night sky.
“It’s so lonely at the Barns,” he said. “Even with Opal, and with Sharon visiting every so often, it’s so fucking lonely. The only times I really feel good is when I’m with you.”
“That’s not true,” Adam said, irritated by the last part of what he’d said. “I’m not the only good thing in your life, Ronan.”
“That’s not what I fucking meant,” Ronan said. “I didn’t mean you’re the only good thing in my life. I meant that I need you in my life. You’re not the only good thing in my life, but you’re… an essential thing.”
Adam didn’t respond, and Ronan added quickly, “I don’t want you to quit the life you have here, just for me. Or for anyone.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Adam said. “But if you feel lonely at the Barns, Ronan, maybe you should find a solution for that. I could help you find a solution. It’s not impossible for both of us to have the lives we want, and…”
He took a breath.
“And to have those lives together.”
Ronan leaned in closer to Adam. He was still pretty cold, as a result of not being responsible enough to wear a coat, but something in him always burned bright regardless.
“You know,” Ronan said, “I was looking up shit online about the farming community in Connecticut. It says there’s new young farmers coming here all the time.”
“What the fuck even grows in this climate?” Adam said, avoiding the point of what Ronan had said.
“Smartasses like you, apparently.”
Adam laughed, and wrapped his arm tighter around Ronan.
“Do you really want that?” Adam asked. “To live here.”
“I don’t know,” Ronan said. “I know I want to start a place of my own. I know I don’t want to be alone. I know I want to keep working in agriculture, that’s for sure.”
“Well, you’re nineteen. You don’t have to figure out yet what you want for the distant future. I don’t know all the details of what I want to do, even.”
“I thought you had this whole five-year plan and shit. Grad school and research and internships and all that.”
“Yeah, I have that planned out, but I meant really long-term. I don’t know where I want to live yet, my whole career plan, what exactly I’m going to specialize in. You can plan where you want to go for, you know, for now, and not know what you want years and years from now.”
Ronan didn’t say anything, and Adam looked up at him. His eyes were closed.
“Ronan?” Adam said. “What is it?”
Ronan opened his eyes, and Adam nearly lost his breath. It looked like he’d captured bits of the starlight from above within them.
“Thinking about the future,” he said. “Long-term. Years and years from now. I didn’t used to do that.”
“I can help you with it, you know,” Adam said.
“I know,” Ronan said. “I just never expected to have something I knew I wanted to have forever.”
“What do you mean?” Adam asked.
“You know what I mean, Adam. I don’t know where I want to live in ten years, or what exactly I’ll be doing in twenty years, but I know I want to be with you.”
Adam’s breath turned to light.
He’d known, ever since Ronan had first kissed him, that this was long-term. He’d thought about being with him for years and years to come; he’d been thinking about that since the first night, over a year ago. It was old and familiar to think like this, and new and breathtaking at the same time.
Committing to somebody else was not something that Adam Parrish did- it was such a contradiction to who he was, his own man. And yet this was not a contradiction. Wanting to be with Ronan was as intrinsic as breath, as the answer to a puzzle that had been obvious once he figured out a particular trick. It struck him that this was obvious, too- he wanted this forever, too.
Didn’t make it any less breathtaking.
“I…” he said, because he’d been staring at Ronan without speaking for a while now.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Ronan said.
“You know I want this, too,” Adam said.
Ronan leaned in and kissed him.
“You’re doing a shit job of warming me up,” he said, when he broke away.
“Then let’s go to my room like I said in the first place,” Adam said.
“How do you plan to warm me up there, Parrish?”
Adam rolled his eyes at Ronan’s obnoxiously suggestive expression.
“You’ll see,” he answered, and led Ronan into the dorm building, which was a relief of warmth after the cold outdoors.
Ronan was desperate and loud, like he usually was when they had sex, and Adam kept hissing at him to keep it down. Eventually he slid his fingers into Ronan’s mouth to try and keep him quiet, which Ronan didn’t object to at all.
“God,” Ronan exhaled, when they finished, and Adam rolled off onto his side, breathing heavily. “You’re so fucking… amazing.”
“Three… weeks,” Adam said, “of thinking about fucking you… Jesus Christ…”
They both shuddered out long breaths and Adam stretched his leg muscles before curling his arms back around Ronan.
“Maybe you should move to fucking Connecticut,” he said. “So we don’t get this goddamn desperate for it every time.”
“If I’m going to move to another state, I’m not doing it because of your fucking sexual frustration, Parrish.”
“But it would be a nice benefit to you being close.”
Ronan burrowed his head against Adam’s neck, and Adam thought he wanted to go to sleep. They’d already turned the lights off, and they were both tired.
“What else?” Ronan asked quietly, when both of their eyes were closed.
“What else of what?” Adam asked.
“What else would be nice if I lived close by?”
Adam let himself imagine a life where he had both things: seeing his family often, maybe every week even, and also following his ambitions and learning the way he learned things here at school. Out of habit, he nearly chastised himself for only thinking of the benefits to himself, and not those for Ronan, and then he thought, it isn’t selfish to have my own dreams.
Besides, he thought, maybe Ronan would be just as happy living this close, if he found a place that felt like his own.
“Seeing you,” he said. “Just seeing you, touching you, visiting more often- if it was only an hour or two of a drive instead of ten- visiting on weekends, or even for an afternoon. Falling asleep next to you. Waking up next to you. Getting to help teach Opal, not just on Skype. And if Opal went to school near here, I could see her if she did something for a science fair or a school play or something. And I could come see all the progress you make with your crops, and you could come see all the things I do here. You could live in a town that’s nothing like Henrietta, except for the nice things maybe. There’s nice towns up here, with good school systems and apple orchards and libraries with children’s programs. I don’t know. A hundred things.”
Ronan was staring up at him. Adam expected a sarcastic comment, but Ronan said, “That sounds… God. That sounds like the life I want.”
“Me, too,” Adam said, knowing that it was the truth.
“Especially falling asleep next to you,” Ronan said, and yawned, resting his head on Adam’s chest.
“I love you,” Adam whispered, as he closed his eyes again.
“I love you too.”
It was early when Adam woke up the next morning- not too early for him, because he usually woke up earlier, but early for a weekend when his first shift of the day started at four in the afternoon. The silvery light through the trees outside the window was still bare and undressed by the day.
He looked at the clock by the bed- it was eight AM. Still two hours until they’d agreed to meet the others at the brunch place Gansey had found in town.
Next to him, Ronan’s eyes were open, but he was paralyzed. His jerking awake had been what had woken Adam, but Adam didn’t feel startled out of his sleep- he felt refreshed and quite comfortably awake as he waited for Ronan to pull whatever it was out of his dreams.
The thing turned out to be a small, circular box made out of wood. Ronan looked down at it, unsurprised to see it in his hands.
“Morning, Parrish,” he said, looking back up at Adam’s curious expression.
“Morning, Lynch,” Adam said. “What’d you dream up this time?”
Ronan considered the box again, holding it up to his face.
“I think I know what it is,” he said. “But it’ll work better outside. In the woods. Come on, I’ll show you.”
It was tempting to stay in bed for a bit longer, but Ronan was already up and rummaging through the bag he’d brought for some clothes, so Adam got up, too. He was curious about the dream box. Ronan’s dream things sometimes required some external context to work, and he’d seen one before that needed to be out in the woods- a spinning top that could spin on thin air, but only if that air was that of a forest.
Adam liked when Ronan’s dream things met with trees.
“I have an idea of where in the woods to go,” Ronan said, once they were dressed and headed out the door. “That stump we came across. The one Opal said looked like a fairy table.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember,” Adam said. The woods outside his dorm were probably Opal’s favorite place on the Yale campus, and likely Adam’s favorite place as well. They went on walks there every time Ronan and Opal visited.
“What do you think it is?” Adam asked, when they entered the woods. “Your dream thing?”
“You’ll see, Parrish.”
The woods were always comforting, but in the morning there was something almost holy about them. In March, neither blooms nor leaves adorned the trees, but buds were on every branch, promising that the dream held within all winter was just about to spring forth. A gentle, cold but awakening light bathed the dirt path, and when they came across the clearing with the fairy-table stump, Adam could see a few bits of dust floating in the sun there.
Ronan sat down next to the stump, placing the box on top of it, and beckoned Adam to come over. Adam sat down across from him. The ground was cold and hard and clear beneath him.
“It has to catch the sunlight, I think,” Ronan said. “Here, look at it. I’ll open it.”
He lifted the lid off the small box. Adam peered in. There was a small metal circle within it with a glass sphere attached on one side.
Adam looked up at Ronan, lifting his eyebrows, but Ronan was angling the box to face the sun.
A burst of light sprang from the box when he got the right angle, and Adam looked back down at the dream thing.
The tiny glass sphere had filled with white smoke, streaked with blue and pink, that had settled to make it look quite like an opal. Ornamental leaves and flowers curled around the metal, looking beautiful without being gaudy, and the metal had turned to gold.
Now Adam recognized what it was. A ring.
He looked up at Ronan, who was staring back at him without any pretense or mask.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
Adam had once told himself, when he was ten years old, that he was never going to get married. What he’d seen of married couples had convinced him that love didn’t exist and that he would be better off alone. He wasn’t sure why he thought of that moment, now in the woods looking back at Ronan- he hadn’t thought of that promise to himself in years. But it took nothing to decide that he would break that promise. He wanted this, not only in his heart but in his bones and in whatever part of him was eternal- he wanted this to go on forever.
He thought of the question Ronan had asked him with their first kiss. He thought of seeing him in Cabeswater. He thought of Opal. He thought of every gentle look and touch and word and of clear, awake understanding. He thought of how Ronan was looking at him now, patient and without so much as a hint of anger, knowing that Adam needed to think everything over, to analyze the answer to every question.
And the thing was, Adam already had the answer. He was only explaining to himself how he’d gotten there.
He reached over and picked up the ring. Within it in cursive writing, it read unguibus et rostro.
Adam looked back up at Ronan.
He said, “Yes.”